Diesel exhaust may harm health of women more than men, study says

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Breathing diesel exhaust fumes may be more harmful for females than males, new research suggests. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Breathing diesel exhaust fumes may be more harmful for females than males, prompting more changes in women’s blood components related to inflammation, infection and cardiovascular disease.

That’s according to preliminary findings from a small study scheduled to be presented Sunday at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

The findings, while preliminary, “show that exposure to diesel exhaust has different effects in female bodies compared to male and that could indicate that air pollution is more dangerous for females than males,” Neeloffer Mookherjee, a professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, said in a Thursday news release.

Her research team collaborated on the new research with a team led by Chris Carlsten, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Mookherjee said that a better understanding is important because respiratory diseases such as asthma are known to effect females and males differently, with females more likely to have severe asthma that does not respond to treatments.

“Therefore,” she said, ” we need to know a lot more about how females and males respond to air pollution and what this means for preventing, diagnosing and treating their respiratory disease.”

According to previous collaborative work by researchers at the two Canadian universities, breathing diesel exhaust has been shown to create inflammation in the lungs and affect how the body deals with respiratory infections.

The new research involved looking for any effects in the blood from diesel exhaust and exploring how these effects differ in females and males.

The study’s scheduled presenter at the European conference, Dr. Hemshekhar Mahadevappa, is a research associate of Mookherjee’s at the University of Manitoba.

The small study involved 10 healthy participants, all non-smokers, five female and five male. Each person spent four hours breathing filtered air, and four hours breathing air containing diesel exhaust fumes at three concentrations: 20, 50 and 150 micrograms of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, per cubic meter. They had a four-week break in between each exposure.

The current European Union annual limit value for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms per cubic meter, but much higher peaks are common in many cities, the release said.

Twenty-four hours after each exposure, the participants donated blood samples.

Researchers used a technology called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze the blood plasma: the blood’s liquid component transporting blood cells and hundreds of proteins and other molecules around the body, the release said.

Comparing blood samples, the scientists found levels of 90 proteins that were “distinctly different” between female and male volunteers following exposure to diesel exhaust, the release said.

These proteins included some known to play a role in inflammation, damage repair, blood clotting, cardiovascular disease and the immune system.

The next step, researchers said, is further study of the functions of these blood proteins to better understand their role in the difference between female and male immune responses.

Exposure to air pollution, especially diesel exhaust, is a major risk factor in diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Zorana Andersen, a professor from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, noted in the release, offering outside commentary on the study.

Andersen, chair of the European Respiratory Society’s Environment and Health Committee, urged governments globally to respond by setting and enforcing limits on air pollutants.

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